A friend on facebook tipped me off to this article by John Pavlovitz the other day. This article kind of synthesizes many thoughts that have been rumbling through my head not only since the current president took over but going clear back into the Clinton days when the early manifestations of wide spread jerkiness started appearing in society.
There has always been a certain amount of jerks in our society. However in the main (and mind you I have spent my life in Iowa) most people were polite and courteous to other people, not wishing to burden others with their boorishness.
However, jerks in society seemed to have been on the increase since Newt Gingrich’s reign as House Speaker. Social discourse during the reign of Bush the second got even jerkier as we as a nation began to live as it were in different worlds. Once America at least had some facts held in common and history held in common and some values held in common. During the Bush years that broke down. That break down in commonly held facts and beliefs led to barriers to social exchanges.
This led to a “we/they” or an “us/them” splintering in our society. That breakdown increased throughout the Obama years despite repeated gallant attempts by the President to close the gaps that persisted.
The election of the current president has seemed to given a stamp of approval to being a jerk. The widening inequality in our society has also caused everyone to be much more tense, more afraid and more insecure. These are qualities that lead people to act out in ways that some consider anti-social.
Everybody has stress. The economic focus of the last several decades of making the rich richer with a huge transfer of wealth from the middle and poorer classes to the wealthy has greatly exacerbated that stress. When people are on edge, they can act like jerks.
Here is a sampling of John Pavlovitz’ thoughts on this theme:
“I tried to look beneath the surface veneer they wore; to imagine the invisible burdens they might be carrying beneath it: sick children, relational collapse, financial tension, crippling depression, profound grief, crisis of faith, loss of purpose—or maybe just the custom designed multitude of the nagging insecurities and fears they’ve been carrying around since grade school and have never been able to shake.
As I looked at all these people, I wondered what kind of specific and personal hell they might be enduring, and it reminded me—so I’m reminding you:
Life is stunningly short and it is eggshell fragile.
Most people are having a really tough time.
They are almost always in more pain than you think they are.
Everyone is doing the very best they can to get through this day, and many are going through all manner of horrors in the process.
No one is immune from the invasive collateral damage of living.”
If you feel yourself about to act like a jerk, think to yourself how you would feel if someone acted like a jerk to you. Said another way, remind yourself of the good old Golden Rule and treat someone else as you would want to be treated. You have no idea what is going on in their life, so don’t add to their misery.
And if someone acts like a jerk to you, shake it off. They may be experiencing a huge crisis in their life.
We are all in this together so we’d better get along. We have a much bigger common enemy to focus on.
Thanks, Dave. Good reminder. I could argue some points about bad behavior, and about when and what types affected which groups of people. I could argue that in some ways behavior is better, but you certainly are right that in some ways it is worse. And it is inarguable that it would be even better if more people remembered the golden rule — don’t be a jerk.
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